10 Animal Heroes from History: Cher Ami, 9/11 Nikie and More

A carrier pigeon, a Golden Retriever dog, a Shih Tzu, a cow and a goat are a few amazing animals who've saved the lives of humans.

YouTube is inundated with videos of dancing dogs and yarn-throwing cats.  Cute animal forwards are fixtures in office e-mail chains all over the world.  While watching puppies roll around gives us pleasure, animals do more than just play pretty—they are war heroes and lifeguards and bodyguards and 911 messengers.

Dr. Elise Nowbahari, of the University of Paris, says non-human animal rescue behavior is far more common than people think.

Nowbahari’s research, published in the January 2010 issue of Communicative and Integrative Biology, suggests that animals such as monkeys, dolphins, fruit bats and even ants have an instinct that causes them to put themselves in harm’s way for another animal without the promise of any direct reward.

Monkeys will drive away an attacker from a vulnerable female or infant and fruit bats help other fruit bats give birth.

Here are ten examples of animals using their rescue instincts to help human beings in distress:

1. Cher Ami (the carrier pigeon)
More than 200 men from Major Charles Whittlesey’s battalion were trapped on a hillside with no food or ammunition in France during WWI. 

Whittlesey sent carrier pigeons to deliver notes asking for help.  Two pigeons were shot down before the last pigeon available, Cher Ami (“dear friend” in French), was dispatched with a note in a canister on his left leg. 

The note read: “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it!” 

Cher Ami was shot through the breast, blinded in one eye and his left leg was hanging on by a tendon during flight, but he still delivered the note, clutched in his left claw. Cher Ami’s note saved 194 men from Whittlesey’s “Lost Battalion.”

After the battle, Army medics saved Cher Ami and carved a small wooden leg for him.  He had delivered 12 important messages even before this final battle.  Cher Ami was proclaimed a war hero upon his return to America. 

He died at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, on June 13, 1919, likely from wounds he received in battle.  He was inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame in 1931.  His body is currently on display in the National Museum of American History’s “Price of Freedom” exhibit.

2. Nikie (the golden retriever)

Frank Shane, a professional dog therapist and CEO of the K-9 Disaster Relief Foundation took his golden retriever, Nikie, to Ground Zero during the 9/11 clean-up efforts. 

When Shane arrived at the site, he sat in his car with Nikie looking out on the destruction. 
“This was obedience 101. If I got scared, I would transmit it directly to him. But I couldn’t mask my emotions; downtown New York was destroyed. So here we were, a guy and his dog,” Shane says.

Nikie had already proven himself to be calm in stressful situations.  Several years earlier, he had spent his days comforting brain trauma patients.  When Nikie entered a hospital room, he would carefully step over and between any wires on his way to the patient’s bedside.

Once they were out of the car, a woman immediately threw her arms around Nikie and held on tight while a counselor tried to break through to her by talking about the dog.

Shane and Nikie spent eight months wandering the site.  Nikie provided comfort and calm for recovery workers who were also grieving for lost loved ones.

When the cleanup was finished, Shane said it was like breaking up a family—a new community built out of rubble.  Shane gave all 100 workers one of Nikie’s scarves to commemorate the experience.

3. Babu (the Shih Tzu)
Days after the 2011 earthquake in Japan, 12 year-old Shih Tzu dog Babu insisted on going for a walk. Her owner, Tami Akunuma, suspected something was wrong because Babu is not usually excited to go for walks.

In addition, instead of taking the normal route, Babu pulled her 83-year old owner up the hill in the opposite direction.

Minutes after climbing the hill, the March 2011 tsunami flattened the district of Taro-Kawamukai where they lived about 200 meters from the coast.

There are many instances of animals directing humans out of harm’s way. A Watusi cow in Arkansas stood between his owner and a poisonous snake she hadn’t noticed on the path ahead. An elephant in Phuket, Thailand saved a young British boy by carrying him away from the water just before the massive tsunami wave hit in 2005.

4. Sgt. Reckless (the war horse)

Reckless was a small Mongolian mare bought for $250 by Lieutenant Eric Pederson from a young Korean boy, Kim Huk Moon, at the Seoul Race Track.  Reckless entered the United States Marine Corps in 1952.  She was promoted twice to Staff Sergeant.

During the Korean War, Reckless delivered ammo to the front lines.  She only had to be led a few times before she could make the trip to and from the ammo delivery sites. During just one battle, she made 51 trips under enemy fire, most of them by herself.

“It’s difficult to describe the elation and the boost in morale that little white-faced mare gave Marines as she outfoxed the enemy bringing vitally needed ammunition up the mountain,” Sgt. Maj. James E. Bobbitt said.

Reckless’ decorations include two Purple Hearts, a Good Conduct Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation with star, a National Defense Service Medal, a Korean Service Medal, a United Nations Service Medal, and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, all of which she proudly wore on her scarlet and gold blanket.  But the awards she liked most were cokes and beer and cake and chocolate bars—even a little whiskey or bourbon occasionally.

5. Bhoori (the cow) and Mandy (the goat)

Seventy year-old Zainab Bibi was sleeping in her courtyard when a massive flood erupted in her native home of Daira Din Panah, Pakistan.  She was trying to keep her head above water when she saw her cow, Bhoori, swim up next to her. She grabbed Bhoori’s neck, and the cow floated with Zainab for hours until they were able to find higher ground.

Like Bhoori, Mandy, the goat, never left her owner’s side. Noel Osbourne, 78, was working on his farm in Benalla, Australia when he was accidentally knocked into a pile of manure by a cow and fractured his hip.  He was too far away for anyone to hear his cries. 

Mandy stayed close to Osbourne to keep him warm through five cold nights. During the hot days, Mandy stood over him to block the sun and provided him with enough milk to keep his body hydrated. He was eventually found by friends and made a full recovery.
Read the last five here.